Apps, Immersion, User Engagement – Back to Duolingo

Wiktor K. June 1, 2013 3

Funny - A Hoot 

If I had to find my internet sweet-spot – the language lover’s paradise, the virtual playground for foreign language study – I’d go for Duolingo. This week the Android-loving polyglots have even more reasons to rejoice. Android language learning app from Duolingo is here. What else has changed with Duolingo since my last review?

0. What’s Duolingo, again?

I guess it started with this TED talk by reCaptcha’s author. Then the project became real, and got my attention along with lots of enthusiasm. Basically, Duolingo lets you learn a foreign language for free and help translate the web one sentence at a time.

Since its launch, the website has evolved and reached more language learners with more ideas. Let’s have a look at some of them.

1. The Android App – take the Owl with you!

The app is now out, and gets great reviews. I’ve recently been testing these like crazy (Memrise has had a review as well), and I’m happy to say that Duolingo’s app is another good one. Here’s just a few great things about it:

  • - It’s free! No extra payments to unlock more lessons, no hidden charges. You get access to your course, the way you would with the Duolingo website.
  • - The sound works. My German comes out right and without lagging. Everyone’s waiting for the microphone recording support in-app, but for now, it’s great that the sound recordings are available.
  • - It looks really, really good. In a way, the skill tree and the exercises look even better on a smartphone than on a laptop screen…!

The app is not perfect (no offline mode and huge battery drain), but it’s a good way to drag you back to learning regularly.

2. The Immersion – helping translate the web

This.
Sweet Saint Jerome, this.
Duolingo lets you translate authentic texts from the language you’re learning. It gives you support at word level for all the words of the original. It lets you edit other people’s translations, and notifies you whenever your translation gets edited.
If this sounds simple and straightforward, that’s partly why it works. For me, there are very few more powerful ways to learn, and the added value of the process is immense.
You encounter words in authentic contexts and it’s up to you to make sense of them. Other users are there to offer feedback and to help work on language learning together. And finally, there’s the warm feeling of helping make the Web a more evenly-distributed place – and of doing something productive.

3. Nagging, notifying, reminding – how Duolingo keeps you in the loop

Nothing major, but this is why I keep coming back to the website: the notifications are actually useful. Take this email I received after translating a sentence on classical music:

mail duolingo

This is an email I’d be looking forward to. “Here’s what you did, here’s what got changed.” There are many language teachers out there who are unwilling to correct your mistakes – Duolingo ensures that other people’s edits reach you to help you learn. Brilliant.

4. Conclusions: go get it!

It’s still far from perfect, but the courses are fun and sensible, the translation module is a work of genius, and the apps make user interaction frequent and intensive enough. I’m now using Duolingo along Memrise for my language learning challenge, and I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

(cover photo credit: @Doug88888 via Compfight)

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3 Comments »

  1. JaredRomey June 1, 2013 at 6:14 pm -

    Wiktor,

    Do you think that Duolingo is a good software to learn a language? I found that it was fine for review and, as you mention, the translation of the web is unique, however as software to learn a new language, I really don’t see it helping much. What’s your opinion?

    Thanks,

    Jared

  2. Wiktor Kostrzewski June 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm -

    Hi Jared,

    I don’t think that any software will do the job perfectly. But Duolingo has enough support and structure to help with the basics. I currently go through the Duolingo skill tree for German basics and top it up with several Memrise vocabulary sets – seems to be OK at the moment, but I know I’ll have to do some serious writing and speaking soon.
    Thanks for asking!
    WK

  3. JaredRomey June 1, 2013 at 6:55 pm -

    Thanks for the quick response. Maybe I’ll pick a language I’ve never studied and see how it goes.

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